Audio art exhibits from Sights and Sounds are available to experience online at recreatecollective.bandcamp.com
A foot stomps. People shuffle. A stop announcement is broadcast. Brakes squeal. The din of conversational clatter forms a percussive bass to the driving rhythms of an electro-funk instrumental riff. This is what the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) public bus sounds like for youth artists Sammy and Jake.
With a backdrop meant to mimic the experience of riding public transportation, “The Bus Noise and Sounds (HSR)” submission is but one in a series of experiential vignettes that form the setting for RE-create’s Sights and Sounds of Where We Belong exhibition. Featuring six distinct tableaux staged with their own ambience, audio art, artwork and suggestions presented by youth, participants encounter an immersive sensory experience representative of how youth navigate within the spaces of Ontario Works (OW), Living Rock Ministries (The Rock), HSR, Hamilton Public Library (HPL), the HPL washroom, and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“The Bus Noise and Sounds (HSR)” exhibition by Sammy and Jake
Amidst the cacophony of soulful sounds exists the clarity of youth voices. In conveying their feelings of space, place, belonging and disbelonging, youth have, in their own words and through their own artistry, reclaimed the agency to speak about their own lives.
“Youth voices matter,” Meghan Schuurman emphatically reiterates. Such an exceedingly simple, yet powerful message is RE-create’s refrain. “We cannot discount street-involved youth. They are critical and have intelligent things to say,” Schuurman continues. In offering visitors the opportunity to reflect on the thoughtfulness of submissions in the studio and online (recreatecollective.bandcamp.com), Schuurman is optimistic that the exhibition will initiate conversations and promote sustained dialogue and civic discourse about who belongs in the city.
The project, nine months in the making was inspired from the “Spaces and Places” research project on youth resilience designed by the Resilience Research Centre in Halifax. Videotaping youth reactions to questions about inclusion and belonging served as the genesis for RE-create’s own youth to respond to the spaces they navigate within.
Musician and volunteer Brett Klassen, who, like Schuurman, has been instrumental in overseeing the project and helping youth to produce their musical pieces, reiterates the importance of community dialogue. “This exhibit is an example of how people are serious about valuing youth voices in discussions about community. The youth offer practical suggestions and have made their exhibits accessible to the community,” Klassen states as he notes that representatives from the featured organizations will be in attendance. “Creating and listening to music is a community experience,” Klassen says. The compositions, which are collaborative, invite a shared experience among listeners by engendering mutuality and a common understanding of what it is to walk in another’s inequalities.
As volunteer Matthew Linzel says, “When you hear them talking about their experiences, you identify with where they’ve come from.”
Musician and music producer Brett Klassen and youth artist Aly strike a pose
“Youth are ready to be engaged. They have always had useful things to say,” the ever thoughtful Klassen continues. Citing the empowering nature of telling one’s story, Klassen hopes what Sights and Sounds will initiate is a consciousness about how society and youth can mutually advocate for structural changes that address the powerful and often silencing forces of gentrification, racialization, gender inequality and classism. Power pushes others into positions of vulnerability. “Youth need to be heard and valued in the conversation about where they belong,” Klassen insists before distributing a card that implores visitors to ponder “Why is the inclusion of youth voices important to Hamilton?” and “How can we advocate for the changes proposed through the exhibition?”
“The Ocean’s Chair (Living Rock)” exhibit by Levi Bailey celebrates Living Rock Ministries
With visitors donning headphones to listen to the introspective compositions, both Schuurman and founder Betty Brouwer were buoyant that the suggestions youth proposed would find a wider audience towards implementation. That optimism was contagious as RE-create’s youth artists mingled with the larger community.
TiFF and Jake’s “Lib Vibe (HPLC)” exhibit emphasizes the importance of youth access to public space
The strength to be vulnerable, to demonstrate compassion and to express a broader understanding of the constraints that create the systems of inequality they manoeuvre within is pervasive throughout the artists’ exhibits.
Whether it is in Levi Bailey’s acknowledgement in “The Ocean’s Chair (Living Rock),” that “sometimes you need to raise your hand for people to notice you’re drowning on the inside,” or TiFF and Jake in “Lib Vibe (HPL)” as they lament the erroneous assumptions security guards have internalized in policing youth belonging within public spaces, the artists’ insightful pieces promote a commitment to community conversations. It is an indelible impact on how community should be defined and how inclusion must be reconceptualized beyond the walls of an art studio.
Tanner Ward poses with his submission “Bathroom Stink,” an exhibit on gender neutral washrooms
“Hopefully people will understand,” artist Tanner Ward says as he explains how “Bathroom Stink” interrogates the exclusionary politics that arise from the lack of gender neutral washrooms. By positioning the lack of “freedom to enter a restroom without fear of judgement or anxieties” as a metaphor for “the monster in a room, giving off a noxious fume,” Ward illustrates the suffocating arbitrariness from social constructs of gender. The whimsical “toilet monster,” which is meant to evoke laughter, serves as commentary on the necessity of confronting how discomforting discourses on gender shape public space.
The “Odubs (OW Office)” exhibit by Aly, Nick and James describes two differing experiences with OW .
Effecting change is at the core of Aly’s piece “Odubs (OW Office).” In collaboration with artists Nick and James, Aly uses experimental hip hop, rap and spoken word to articulate the diverse experiences of youth interactions with the OW. Her own frustrating experiences with “always getting an OW worker’s voicemail” prompted the artist to question why there are not more appropriate support mechanisms that would assist OW recipients. “I need help getting off the system, feels like options are few. Instead of just giving me this money, why don’t they help find me a job?” Aly thoughtfully raps.
Entreating visitors to pen their feelings on sticky notes to leave on bathroom mirrors is a way to establish connection in Marie Sinclair’s piece “Hospital (West 5th & Youth Wellness Centre).” Encouraging youth to “advocate to be an advocate,” potential recipients are inspired to “Dream BIG and dare to FALL,” or to “Never Give Up” as they read an assortment of motivating messages about grief, perseverance and resilience. Her accompanying spoken word piece demands for more compassionate and empathetic approaches to youth wellness, ones that challenge current institutional practices. “Why do you have to push so hard to get the help you deserve?” Sinclair beseeches. “Believe me. Help me. Fight for me.”
The “Hospital (West 5th & Youth Wellness Centre)” exhibit by Marie Sinclair
“Youth really put themselves in the project,” Schuurman notes as she surveys the high level of sustained youth commitment. The resulting potential for civic engagement generated from the exhibition is immeasurable. Without the generosity of benefactors, projects that speak to youth, about youth, and through youth, will be silenced. Without the commitment of a dedicated group of people willing to engage, youth voices that can illuminate on important matters that affect their lives will be overshadowed by deafening apathy. It takes the courage of compassion and integrity to speak so openly.
Brett Klassen (far left) and Meghan Schuurman (second from far left) introduce the youth artists
“It takes a lot for youth to stand up,” says Aly as she reflects on how finding her inner artist has been transformative. “I’m more open, more happy and I have a different perspective,” she smiles before stepping away to join her fellow artists whom are being introduced by Klassen and Schuurman to a community that has come to hear their voice.
This is the final instalment of a five part series that explored RE-create Outreach Art Studio, an art studio housed in the space of Art Forms Youth Arts Studio located on James Street North.
Part One – The Audacity of Art
Part Two – The Helping Hand of Art
Part Three – To Create and RE-create Anew
Part Four – The Artful Voices of Youth Resilience